An 1877 Park Avenue mansion funded by beer

The titans of industry in the Gilded Age built spectacular mansions for themselves on today’s Upper East Side.

George Ehret also built an Upper East Side mansion. But unlike men like Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Frick who made their money in steel, railroads, or on Wall Street, Ehret’s showstopper of a home was funded by a decidedly old-world product: beer.

Ehret was the German-born founder of the Hell Gate Brewery, opened in 1866 in a massive brick clock-tower structure on a mostly rural stretch of East 93rd Street between Second and Third Avenues.

(Below, the view from Ehret’s mansion in 1882, with Hell Gate Brewery in the background close to the East River.)

Like thousands of other German immigrants, Ehret arrived in Gotham in the middle of the 19th century, part of the first wave of mass immigration from Europe.

While beer had been a popular beverage in the city since colonial days, this sudden population surge fueled a demand for beer that led to the opening of several huge breweries in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“The Germans who came during and after that period were mostly beer drinkers, and the demand for that mild beverage became so great that the speedy erection of additional breweries proved to be a manifest want,” Ehret wrote in his 1891 history of brewing.

Thanks to all the beer gardens and saloons popping up in the Gilded Age, Ehret made a fortune. In 1877 he bought land on newly landscaped upper Fourth Avenue between 93rd and 94th Streets, then commissioned an architect to construct a fabulous mansion for himself, his wife, and their many children.

Architecture critics may not have loved it, but the brownstone-style mansion built on a hill certainly stood out, especially since the Ehrets didn’t have many neighbors at the time. (Above, from the mansion roof in 1882)

Over the decades that changed, and by the time Ehret died in his home in 1927, Park Avenue was turning into an enclave of tall, stately apartment houses.

His family sold the mansion to a developer who built 1185 Park Avenue on the site (above). Ehret’s brewery ceased production two years later, a casualty of Prohibition.

[Top photo: NYPL, 1928; third and fourth photos: MCNY 2001.72.10; MCNY 2003.26.4]

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12 Responses to “An 1877 Park Avenue mansion funded by beer”

  1. Bob Says:

    The photos from the roof of Ehret’s home are part of a series by Peter Baab of 10 photographs that provide a 360-degree panoramic view from Park Avenue and 94th Street in 1882.

  2. george Quinn Says:

    The US government should have paid all makers of alcohol products for putting them out of business. This was utterly wrong.

  3. Tom B Says:

    Great pics from the past. Who would of thunk it! Would this area be called Carnegie Hill or Yorkville?

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Carnegie Hill. But of course at the time, the name didn’t exist. Andrew Carnegie didn’t built his mansion on Fifth and 91st Street until 1903!

  5. David H Lippman Says:

    I love that shot of the empty Park Avenue and 96th Street BEFORE it was all built up.

    • george Quinn Says:

      Our government should have paid every single alcohol beverage company for putting them out of business when prohibition rolled around. They’re doing the same thing since 1939 with marijuana. One cannot tepair stupid

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Prohibition turned America into a nation of criminals…my grandfather owned a drug store, and he regularly filled prescriptions for “medicinal alcohol,’ knowing that the doctor and patient were sharing the proceeds.

        The “war on marijuana” came from William Randolph Hearst’s battle to save his wood industry over hemp and teak. Hearst won. His granddaughter toked the stuff heavily before and during her legendary kidnapping, of course….

      • george Quinn Says:

        Howdy Dave…We have the 1939 marijuana movie. fun to watch but now we don’t have a VCR plAyer any more as our house burned down 6 years ago….George Quinn, Fort Pierce, Florida…born in New York Hospital, june 4th, 1941 on a Wednesday at 8:20am 😉

      • David H Lippman Says:

        My daughter and I (her aged 20 at the time) watched the movie on VHS tape (Yes, VHS tape), and couldn’t stop laughing at it.

        However, my father saw the film when it first came out in 1939 as a filler between the double-feature at the Dyckman Theater in Inwood. After seeing it, he went back to Grandpa’s drugstore, utterly terrified as to how “reefers” made one go crazy and kill people.

        Grandpa, being a fine pharmacist, was stunned at Dad’s babble, knowing that marijuana did not do that.

        But when Dad, then aged 11, said, “I’m NEVER going to smoke marijuana,” Grandpa responded, “Good, good, Paul. You should stay away from that stuff.”

        Dad never did grass…neither did I. I always afraid of any kind of drugs.

  6. george Quinn Says:

    That’s REPAIR folks

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